Through my 20+ years of practice as an Occupational Therapist (OT), my skill set and how I apply my core knowledge of Occupational Therapy has evolved. I often get asked, “What is Occupational Therapy?” and given my personal experience, that can be a difficult question to answer in a few sentences. Since April is OT month, I thought I would take a minute to share my thoughts and experiences to provide insight on the wonderful profession of OT.
“Occupational therapy maximizes health, well-being, and quality of life for all people, populations, and communities through effective solutions that facilitate participation in everyday living.”1 This statement from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is called “Vision 2025,” is meant to guide the profession into the future. As an occupational therapist, this call to action is highly motivating and comes with much responsibility.
I have chosen to pursue Vision 2025 by extending my educational training and toolkit of skills through engagement with instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Massage (Astym®), health coaching, cancer rehabilitation and splinting. These specialties have allowed me to provide much needed services to diverse patient populations, but also required extensive training to become a competent practitioner utilizing them.
For example, Astym® treatment can be administered only by clinicians who have completed a comprehensive training program requiring certification. The training includes online reading, testing, specific treatment/anatomy instruction, lab time and certification testing.2 In using this technique I have personally experienced amazing patient recoveries, going from extreme pain to returning to valued activities of daily living in a short period of time.
According to the CDC, chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis are among the most common, costly and preventable health problems.3 An important component in my practice of occupational therapy is coaching and empowering our patients to “Live Life to Its Fullest” through health promotion. To improve overall health and reduce health care costs, my colleagues and I can be particularly effective in the management of chronic diseases like the ones listed above. OTs empower the patient to improve their quality of life through education about healthy eating, stress management, and by establishing routines of other healthy habits and behaviors.
I have likewise seen occupational therapy services benefit those diagnosed with breast cancer beginning at the initial phase and continuing through survivorship. This diagnosis along with treatment for it can result in deficits of varying complexity. For instance, patients can experience deficits in physical abilities related to loss of movement in the affected arm or changes in sensation or strength. Treatment needs to include preventive interventions to mitigate repetitive strain injuries. OTs can assist with customizing a program for each client’s individual needs.
Finally, throughout my years as an occupational therapist, I have applied a hands-on approach for rehabilitation of upper extremity injuries through custom splint fabrication for hand to elbow injuries. OTs have knowledge of muscle/joint biomechanics and creative thinking at the core of their education. This prepares us to be uniquely qualified to achieve the best design for the devices that help protect a healing injury (static) and recover motion once it is appropriate (dynamic). After initial application, OT’s must constantly monitor the progression of the patient’s range of motion, soft tissue and joint reaction to maximize functional gains. This particular area of specialty of occupational therapists is one requiring experience and training.
All of the areas mentioned above will continue to be in demand in the near future as, according to US News,4 the need for occupational therapists is expected to increase as baby boomers age and strive to maintain their independence and physical health.
As an occupational therapist, I am honored to provide care through the broad wings of a profession rooted in meaningful activities, a.k.a – “occupations.” I believe the future will allow continued evolution of the creative application of my profession’s unique skillset and world view all leading to additional support of patients “Living Life to Its Fullest”.
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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Aota.org, www.aota.org/AboutAOTA/vision-2025.aspx.
2. “Become a Certified Provider.” Astym Therapy, astym.com/medical/becomeprovider.
3. “Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 June 2017, www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm.
4. Jobs, The Best Paying, et al. “The 100 Best Jobs of 2018.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/the-100-best-jobs.